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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"It's just hard to believe that about any American."
DVD ReviewPoor Robert Cummings. Accused of an awful crime he didn't commit, on the run from the law, can't catch a break from the billboard model trying to turn him in, and forced to stow away in a car full of circus freaks. All of this makes him a classic Hitchcock hero, and as Barry Kane, he's the stolid central presence in Saboteur, a fine opening stanza for Universal's magisterial Masterpiece Collection, and, despite being made over sixty years ago, a film with a newfound relevance today.
Kane works in a Southern California airplane factory—it's 1942, and the factory's output is crucial to the Allies' success in World War II, explaining why Kane is on the home front and out of uniform. A fire breaks out in the factory, and Kane and his pal, Ed Mason, rush into the fray—a peculiar stranger named Frank Fry hands Kane an extinguisher, and all hell breaks loose. It turns out that the extinguisher was filled with gasoline—when Mason tried heroically to put out the fire, he was, literally, adding fuel to it instead, and he dies in a horrible conflagration. Kane dutifully reports his story to the investigating authorities—but there's no one named Fry on the factory payroll, and it's sounding to the Feds like Kane is giving them the business. He soon becomes a wanted man, on the run, accused of a crime he didn't commit, one that involves the betrayal not just of his friend, but of his country.
Kane spends the rest of the picture on the lam, discovering the sordid world of Americans in league with the enemy—they're an effete, overly smooth bunch, dripping with contempt for the ideals, like freedom and community and patriotism, that Kane holds so dear. It's a zippy movie from the Master of Suspense, aided by a sharp screenplay; sharing writing credit is Dorothy Parker, and though her famously acerbic wit is muzzled by the circumstances, there's a deftness of touch that's just terrific. Hitch gives us a couple of great set pieces, too: especially good is the one-on-one between Kane and a kindly old blind gentleman who lives alone in a mountain cabin, whose hospitality Kane wishes to accept while keeping his identity under wraps. The old fellow has a dish of a niece, coincidentally enough, and she becomes the love interest—played by Priscilla Lane, she's got just the right balance between sentimentality and outrage.
The geography of the film is a little counterintuitive to the American myth, for it works its way East, starting in L.A., traveling through the American West, and climaxing in New York City, in a terrifically memorable final sequence, with the shady Fry (played with paranoiac menace by Norman Lloyd) dangling from the torch of the Statue of Liberty. In many respects this film is the appropriate and necessary precursor to North by Northwest: both feature dangerous cases of mistaken identity, a cross-country journey by the hero to clear his name, a female companion, easy on the eyes, who changes her mind about her man, and a crescendo at an iconic American monument.
And Saboteur especially, in our post-9/11 world, seems newly resonant, with its sense of dread of conspiracies within our borders, and of the dangers of terrorism on our own soil. Hitchcock's sensibility was always a little jaundiced, but here he displays an almost Capraesque belief in the power of one right-thinking American motivated by the courage of his convictions. This hero is a citizen Kane for all of us to admire.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: There's some evident scratching on the source material, but the transfer is a reasonably successful one, retaining the almost noiry quality to the original black-and-white photography.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: A good amount of hiss interferes, but it sounds like the limits of the original mono track, not a problem with the transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: Saboteur: A Closer Look (35m:22s) features reminiscences on and a history of the project with Norman Lloyd; Robert Boyle, associate art director; and Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, the director's daughter—it's pretty thorough, especially about the perils of making the movie during wartime, and on everyone's memories of the director. You'll also find a brief selection (03m:29s) of storyboards, and of Hitchcock's own sketches (01m:09s)—these are little more than stick figures, but convey a welcome clarity of intent. A gallery (07m:29s) of production photographs includes shots from the set, costume test snapshots, posters and lobby cards, and production notes provide a quick overview of the evolution of the movie.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA taut suspense story from the master, which helped to establish and cement the notion of what we have come to think of as a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie. Twenty-first-century circumstances have made this one seem even more vital and relevant—a terrifically well-told yarn.
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